As Christians, we know the freedom to live out our faith, as well as living under a government that protects that freedom, are blessings not everyone around the world has. On a special Independence Day radio show and podcast, NC Family President John L. Rustin and Family Policy Matters host Traci DeVette Griggs welcome David Closson, Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council. Closson has recently written a resource called “Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting.” Closson and Rustin discuss the importance of Christians being engaged in politics, because only through being informed and engaged can we help defend those basic yet critical freedoms that we hold dear.
Many Christians tend to disengage from politics because they either think it is too toxic and polarizing, or it has nothing to do with our faith. But Closson points out is simply not true. “If politics is inherently about how people order their lives and their affairs, then the Christian worldview has much to say about that. It affects the basic principles and the freedoms and liberties of all people.”
Rustin acknowledges that this engagement may be difficult, and may feel impossible at times. But he points us to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. “Jesus said that as Christians, we’re all to be salt and light. We are salt and light in the culture if we’re living out our faith, but we’re also likely to be persecuted for that in the same way that the prophets who came before us were persecuted. I think it’s just a clear calling that we’re to engage the culture and apply these Christian biblical principles as we do that.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear David Closson and John Rustin give guidance for how Christians can engage in the political culture of our nation, while still staying true to biblical principles.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As we all know, this is an election year, and it can seem like an overwhelming job to keep track of all the candidates and where they stand on all the issues. Therefore, we’re pleased to spend some time talking about a very helpful resource that we’re making available to voters in North Carolina in partnership with the Family Research Council to help you with that serious task of being responsible and educated voters.
We have a dynamic duo on the show today, NC Family President John Rustin and David Closson from Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., who serves as their Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview.
David and John, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DAVID CLOSSON: Thanks for having me, Traci. Great to be with you.
JOHN RUSTIN: Yeah, Traci, it’s great to be with you as well and with David. I just want to thank David, especially for his great work on the resource that we’ll talk about today, but also just express how appreciative we are of the Family Research Council and the partnership that we have in working with them.
TRACI GRIGGS: The name of the resource we’re discussing today is “Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting.” David, why is this publication necessary and also an important read for us?
DAVID CLOSSON: We are excited to publish this resource in partnership with 21 Family Policy Councils. And this is 2020; it’s an important election year. Right now people’s attention has been rightly focused on the coronavirus pandemic, but as people begin to turn their attention to the election, people are talking about this all over the country. Everyone seems to have an opinion. So, we’ve published this resource to help Christians enter into these conversations with their friends and neighbors from a biblical perspective because we really want Christians, and especially pastors, to be active participants in the conversations that people are having right now about these political and theological issues. And we believe that the church, people of faith, need to be leading on these issues, especially the issues that the Bible speaks to.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, before we talk about the how we do that, let’s first talk about why. Why is it imperative that Christians engage in politics on all levels, federal, state, local, in addition to who our judges are beginning with the local level and on up?
DAVID CLOSSON: I would just simply say that we should care because we believe the gospel has implications for all areas of life. And that includes politics. That includes public policy. And obviously for those who are paying attention, we live in a time of acute political polarization, which is exasperated by the 24-hour cable news network. We saw this in 2016, but we’re seeing it now that there’s a temptation in some corners of the church where people are just turned off by the polarization and by how toxic it is, and they kind of want to wash their hands clean. But if politics is inherently about how people order their lives and their affairs, then the Christian worldview has much to say about that. It has much to say about our civic responsibility and about the role of government. As conservatives, who maybe think the government should be smaller than what it is, we have to face the reality, as our government has its tentacles in all areas of our lives. And it affects the basic principle and the freedoms and liberties of people. As Christians who love their neighbors, we have to be engaged in this area.
JOHN RUSTIN: Traci, I agree with everything that David just said and would just add: if our listeners think about all of the areas of government that impact them directly and impact their families, it’s pretty significant. You’ve got your local school boards. You’ve got your mayor and your city council. You’ve got your county commissioners. You’ve got the state legislature. We’ve got judges from District Court all the way up to State Supreme Court, Court of Appeals. And then of course, up to the federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court and our representatives in Congress. We have a great opportunity in North Carolina to elect our officers in all of those arenas—the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branch.
And so, when we consider how much of our lives are impacted by those decision-makers, those policymakers, and then how much of an opportunity we have to influence who those people are. And as Christians, believing that we know God’s truth and God has a plan and a purpose for our lives, we can engage that truth as it applies to public policy, elect folks that truly are representative of the values that we hold dear, and then of course hold them accountable while they’re in office. So, there’s so much that goes into this, but it’s really vital that Christians are involved and engaged at all levels of elected government.
TRACI GRIGGS: John, specifically, when talking about voting for candidates, how do you think we should evaluate candidates, and what principles should inform our decisions about which candidates to support and vote for?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, clearly people often vote for candidates who share their values or represent their values. And I think that’s a real key, and as Christians, as we read the Bible and think about God’s truth as it relates to our lives, you know, what are the issues that we really care about, and what are the issues that are non-negotiable? I consider those to be matters of the sanctity of human life, about traditional marriage between a man and a woman, the biblical standard of human sexuality. And so, I think that it’s important that we, first of all, are educated and understand the issues that are key to our faith and key to our lives. We may also have issues that are very personal to us like adoption, for example, or other matters, and those may be higher priorities for us than for some other people. And so, all of those issues inform us; those biblical principles inform us. And then I think it’s important that we match up those principles and those priorities with the candidates and find out as best we can where they stand on the issues and then support candidates that represent the values that we care about.
TRACI GRIGGS: David, pastors play an important role in all of this, don’t they, not just as individual voters, but as shepherds, who help guide their congregations. But there is often some concern about not overstepping boundaries between church and state. So, what do you think pastors need to do as far as how to proceed?
DAVID CLOSSON: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ll say pastors do need to be wise and discerning in this area. But one of the reasons I was actually inspired to write this booklet was what I heard from one prominent pastor during the 2018 midterm election. And this pastor actually said in an article that he will preach through the issues when they come up in the text, but beyond that, he didn’t want to do anything that would be perceived as too political. And, you know, I read that, and I listened to that argument, and I just think that’s the wrong attitude. You know, of course, I don’t think pastors should get up and endorse candidates from the pulpit, and it would be absolutely out of line for a pastor to say that their congregation must vote for certain candidates to prove their faithfulness to Christ.
But I think pastors should take their responsibility to shepherd their people seriously and to think about how they can form the conscience of their congregation to think about these political issues in a way that honors God. These issues that we’re talking about are first and foremost, not political issues, but they’re theological issues. I guess four practical things that I would tell a pastor. One is to preach about the moral issues when they come up in the text. I think this is why pastors should preach expositionally, you know, preach through books of the Bible. When an issue comes up in the text, you can’t be accused of going out of your way to be political cause it’s there in the text. Number two, I would say pray publicly for leaders in government. Pray for them by name; pray for the Governor; pray for your Congressman; pray for the President. Number three, churches can absolutely host voter registration drives. And then number four, distributing voter guides, we want people to be informed. I think that all pastors should want their people to be aware of what are the significant issues that are going to be decided at the ballot box because on many of those issues, there are moral and spiritual implications. And I think by distributing good literature, pastors can play a significant part in this process.
TRACI GRIGGS: So, John, what do you say to Christians who are inclined to withdraw and focus on their prayer life, their relationship with God, their families and communities, just to disengage from the messy culture around us?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well Traci, that’s a great question. And of course, Christians ought to focus on those things. As you said, their prayer life, their relationship with God, their family, how to engage in the community. Those things are all extremely important, but Christians also should engage in public policy and in politics. I look at a particular chapter of Matthew 5. It’s the first chapter of Jesus’s Sermon on The Mount. And oftentimes when we talk about engaging in public policy, we talk about being salt and light in our culture. But I also think it’s important to look at the couple of verses immediately proceeding that. We refer to many of those verses as the be-attitudes, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and so on. But then when you get down to verses 11 and 12, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And so, I see Jesus saying that we ought to rejoice and be glad when we’re persecuted for His sake. Not because we’re mean and saying mean things and get persecuted for that, but because in applying biblical principles to public policy, we are going against the grain of the culture, so to speak. When I read this a couple of years ago, it really struck me, and I said, “Well, you know, who were the prophets, and what were they doing?” And of course, these were the prophets of the Old Testament that were speaking God’s truth to the culture, and particularly to the political leaders of the day. And so Jesus, He said that as Christians, we’re all to be salt and light; we are salt and light in the culture if we’re living out our faith, but we’re also likely to be persecuted for that in the same way that the prophets who came before us were persecuted. I think it’s just a clear calling that we’re to engage the culture and apply these Christian biblical principles as we do that.
TRACI GRIGGS: But when we’re prayerfully considering the issues before us, there are some that will come to different conclusions, and that’s okay. Right?
DAVID CLOSSON: Oh, it’s absolutely okay. And you know that there are some issues, economic issues and the exact size and scope of government. Do we go with the national sales tax or a flat tax? How many immigrants do we let in each year? You know, those are questions that we can have serious conversations on, but they’re really what I would say kind of, there’s no “Thus sayeth the Lord;” there’s no chapter and verse. There are theological principles. So while we might disagree on certain issues when it comes to poverty alleviation and exactly how to tackle the race issue—which is such an important issue right now. We might disagree on some of the specific policies, but underneath that, where Christians need to be just abundantly clear is that all people are made in God’s image and that we affirm the dignity of every single person. I think that is what really sets us as Christians who are engaging in the public square, that’ll set us apart from those who are just very angry and upset. But as Christians, we are going to speak truth and love, but see everyone made in God’s image deserving of that dignity and that respect.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thank you so much. Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, first of all, David, tell us where our listeners can go to get a copy of the resource “Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting.”
DAVID CLOSSON: At FRC, we do have it available on our website at frc.org/engage. And that’s a part of our new Worldview Series that listeners can check out at frc.org/worldview. Specifically, for this one, frc.org/engage.
TRACI GRIGGS: Great. And John, you mentioned a couple of times, North Carolina Family Policy Council’s excellent resource, our voter guide. When will that be ready, and how can people get that?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, thank you, Traci. Yes. The voter guide is in production right now. We are surveying candidates for state level offices for the legislature, the Governor, the Council of State, state judicial offices, and also Congress. And we will be working over the summer and the early fall to put all of those resources together. And prior to early voting, which starts at the beginning of October, before the November 3rd General Election, we will be publishing and making public that voter guide. So, not only in the print version, but also on the voter guide website. For more information, people can go to our website at ncfamily.org.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, thank you so much. Great resources, good information. David Closson with the Family Fesearch Council in Washington, D.C. and John Rustin, President of Family Policy Council, here in North Carolina. Thank you both for joining us today on Family Policy Matters.